Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oops!! My Life Just Fell Apart: Wild Creek Man by Robyn Carr

As the 12th novel in the Virgin River series by Robyn Carr, it almost feels like there should be a standard opening paragraph for these books. The author just keeps them rolling off the presses and they just keep grabbing our feelings and our reading imagination. However, those of us who have lived in Northern California at some point in our lives find that visualizing the context of these novels gives added satisfaction in the reading. I, for one, keep on loving these stories, and while I admit that some are more interesting to me than others, have found the most recent releases to be some of the best so far. As has been the case so far, each novel introduces the reader to new characters who have discovered Virgin River, CA, and who have almost immediately fallen in love with this little town, and who have come there for a variety of reasons.

Jillian Mattlock and Colin Riordan would appear to have lives that are as different as night and day. Yet both have arrived in Virgin River, seeking shelter from the disappointments of life, who are seeking a place of peace and hiddenness after finding their carefully orchestrated lives upended and their futures totally in doubt. Jillian's involvement in a company she helped to build over a ten-year span has been brought to an abrupt end by the machinations of an unscrupulous man pretending to be deeply in love with her. Colin has been gravely injured in an aircraft crash and his plans to be both a military and civilian pilot have been as shattered as his body. Jillian finds an old home that reminds her of her great-grandmother's property, with 10 acres of land just waiting to become flower beds, orchards, and vegetable gardens. With her gardens and rows of vegetables and orchards, Jillian begins to allow the earth to renew her. Colin finds that a long dormant talent for painting is all he has to fill endless days of healing and rehabilitation. They find each other and recognize a mutual set of needs. Yet they neither one wants permanence--the future is too uncertain--yet they are totally unable to resist their mutual attraction. Through the days of Spring and Summer they grow closer and closer while each plans to "move on" in the Fall.

Jillian and Colin's affair is a beautiful love story, filled with their delight in one another's hopes for the future, their common appreciation for the beauties of nature and wild life, their genuine appreciation for one another's inner strengths and the awareness that each has become for the other a sexual addiction they are not sure they can live without. Throughout the story the reader is aware of the tentative nature of life, the recognition that no matter how carefully a person plans for the future, there are no guarantees, no way of predicting that seemingly good choices and relationships can turn sour very quickly. How can two people who truly love each other say goodbye, knowing fully that their life paths may never again cross? As in all Virgin River novels, the cast of characters includes persons from previous novels and I have to own up to liking that fact a lot. I have always felt cheated when a good novel ends and the literary acquaintance with those characters does not continue. Ms Carr has allowed her readers to get in on the continuing sage of these individuals and families, even though they may be brief glimpses or perhaps a more extended updating of sorts.
This is no pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by kind of novel. It is about real pain and hurting hearts, inner wounds and stillborn dreams, insecurities born of doubts about one's abilities or from the unwillingness to once again wade into life's battles for survival. And does one only survive, or can people who have had their lives unended find the strength to recoup and once again be productive in a meaningful way? That is really the substantive question behind this novel, and it is told in compelling and engaging way. This novel poses important questions and answers some of those questions in surprising ways. It is one of the aspects of this story that held my interest from beginning to end.

Whether or not you are a Virgin River fan or if this is your first Virgin River novel, I think you will find that this is one of Ms Carr's best. I give it a rating of 5 out of 5.

This novel is being released by Harlequin in February, 2011.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Strong Silent Type: A Creed in Stone Creek by Linda Lael Miller

American fiction is rife with Western heroes, stories that have enriched this country's citizens for hours of pleasurable reading as well as irrevocably shaped the culture of the land even to this modern day. The cultural hero: The Strong Silent Type, was further enshrined in the American subconscious through the 20th century movie diet of heros that were brought alive by John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood, James Stewart, to be joined by a myriad of television actors of note. In decades past, writers like Mark Twain, Zane Gray, John Jakes, and others have spun the tale of the Western hero, the American cowboy who more often than not was astride his trusty horse, seeing to the health and welfare of his ranch, serving the community as a reluctant lawman, or the roving cattle drover/dispenser of justice as needed.

Now we encounter a different kind of hero, one that is living in the contemporary century and time, who has been shaped by the traditions of the American West, but who has paired that cultural input with a top notch university education in one of America's finest educational institutions. Practicing law first in Boston and then Denver, Steven Creed is now taking up residence in Stone Creek, AZ, opening a new law practice to serve those who may not be able to afford a competent lawyer. He has also taken on the task of raising the orphaned son of two of his best friends who have been killed and left their son in his care. Why Stone Creek? As a member of the Creeds of Montana, he is well-aware that even though he is far from his father and mother, he is closer to his McKettrick cousins, providing family connections for himself and his little boy.

Steven Creed is a true Western man having purchased a run-down ranch with an eye of making a home for himself and his son. He is working through the issues of being a new dad, dealing with a very bright five-year-old who is a little confused about the absence o f his parents, and trying to understand how to relate to this kindly and caring man who was his parents' best friend. He is also gradually drawn into the beginnings of an affair with the local district attorney, a woman who sees the letter of the law as being more important than the spirit of the law. Their relationship is placed in danger when a local teen is suspected of a series of burglaries which puts Steven and the district attorney on opposing sides of the case.

This is a compelling story of a man who must make some important decisions about his relationship with his little boy, the small community in which he is hoping to make his home, his future relationships with his relatives, the McKettricks, and a possible permanent relationship with a woman who has his emotions powerfully unsettled. Like all Miller novels, this is not just a story for the sake of the story. It is about real people with real problems and real dilemmas, about living day in, day out with their own flaws as well as the flaws of others. It is romantic and challenging, with a plot and story line that keep the action of the story moving forward, yet not giving away any upcoming surprises. Like all human drama, there is the unexpected, the unsettling, the not-so-nice people who keep individuals and society on our toes. And like all good fiction, these characters are forced to face themselves, forced to face their imperfections and find ways to increase their capacities for meeting life's challenges.

I always find Linda Lael Miller's novels compelling and greatly appreciate her ability to craft characters with whom a reader can relate. She has done so in this literary offering and the lovers of Western romance will be delighted with this novel. I give it a 4.25 out of 5.
This novel is being released by Harlequin in February, 2011.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Practice of Deception: The Countess by Lynsay Sands

"If you continue to look at me like that I may be tempted to kiss you," he said in a husky voice. Christina's eyes widened and for a moment she almost wished he would, but then she recalled that this was her husband and abruptly turned her head away with a little "Oh dear."
"What is it?" Dicky asked with a small frown.
"I believe that drink you gave me may have affected my good sense," she muttered, thinking it the only excuse for how she could find this man attractive after having suffered under being his wife for a year. Besides, she was beginning to feel a little off balance, her thoughts a little slow and confused. Of course, she was suddenly finding it overly hot and a touch airless in the room but suspected it was from being in Dicky's arms. At the moment, they were as close as lovers, his body brushing against hers with each dance step, his one hand at her back, his arm encircling her, his other hand clasping her suddenly sweaty one . . . and his smell just kept wafting up her nose, sliding through her body, making her want to lean into him. The drink was definitely affecting her, she decided grimly.
O what tangled webs we weave
When first we practice to deceive . . .
Lies, lies, lies . . . deception is at the core of this new Lyndsay Sands novel that tells the story of a kind and caring young woman who agreed to marry Richard Fairgrave, the Earl of Radnor in order to save her family estates and the wounded reputation of her father, a man who had never lived the life of a London rogue. Believing Dicky to truly love her, Christiana entered into her marriage in good faith, only to have her husband undergo an almost immediate transformation into an uncaring, cruel, judgmental, critical and abusive husband, as soon as the wedding vows were said. As the story progresses there is little doubt that Lady Radnor was deceived. Now he is dead and Christiana and her two sisters are trying to find a way to once again dig their father out of a massive gambling debt. Imagine their shock when the sisters are presented with the very real, flesh and blood Earl of Radnor at a ball--a ball they attended in order to find a husband for Christiana's sister and being held the same evening after the sisters found Dicky dead in his study.
This is a romance novel that a most appealing comic flavor to it in spite of the fact that the basic plot of the story is quite serious. What does one do when one finds one's husband dead only a short time after enduring a painful breakfast encounter? How does one react when one's husband--his dead body was lying in his bed--walks up to the supposed widow and requests a dance? Is she married or not? What does one do to sort out all this? Was the marriage to Dicky consummated? The various discussions about any and all of these situations is often hilarious as the Christiana and her sisters along with the earl and his friends try to find a way out of this mess.
As always, Lynsay Sands tells an engaging tale that is historically authentic, populated by characters that are certainly people of their times and whose humanity shines through all the social layers of do and don't that controlled the lives of English aristocrats. One cannot help but be drawn into the deep distress of the countess who has spent the first year of her marriage being systematically worn down psychologically by a man whose evil knows no bounds. At the same time there is the clear contrast between the man claiming to be the earl and the genuine article--the true earl whose life was almost snuffed out by his younger brother and who has only now returned from America to once again take up his life. Yet there is someone who knows about Dicky's death and Richard's return, who is now threatening the safety and reputation of the countess and who is demanding blackmail payment. It is a story that brings to the fore the issue of spousal abuse that produces no external bruises but which slowly destroys the joy of living and the sense of personhood. It also brings to light that spousal abuse was not then any more of a welcome topic for society's consideration than it has been in contemporary times. Yet there is a sense of justice in this story and there is a sense that through the efforts of good and caring people the hurts of evil individuals can be overcome.
This is the first in a new series and is very readable, a fascinating story, strong characters, good plot, very good story development, and a writing style that keeps the reader's interest from the first page. Ms Sands has a fine literary portfolio to her credit and has written some fine historical novels in the past. This novel bears her unmistakable stamp and most assuredly will please readers who have welcomed her past work. For fans of historical romance fiction, this novel will please, and it is a worthy example of Ms Sands' writing talent and skills. I give this novel 4.25 out of 5.
This novel will be released by Harper Collins in February, 2011.

Friday, January 14, 2011

So . . . What Does it Look Like For 2011????

Well, the ole Book Bag has come along with me to the new and the unknown . . . 2011. Looking back over the past year I was astounded to see how many books I had read, about 580 according to Goodreads.com, but there are about 20 - 25 books that they don't list that are in that total. I really had no idea that I could pull that off -- maybe 250?? So to even consider what 2011 might hold is somewhat of a challenge. I'm of a mind to think that it's just going to have to be what it will be, no matter how it comes out. Pretty vague, I know, but after blowing my own mind about the number of books I read last year, I don't even know how to project this next year's possibilities.
Here are some thoughts for 2011:
I have a whole series of books by Linda Lael Miller I want to read and review. I have read several recently, namely her Christmas anthology and A Creed in Stone Creek, and have come to like her stories, the characters and her style of writing a great deal. I got the McKettrick series at the second hand bookstore a couple of months ago and have those in my sights.
I want to read more shape shifter stories in 2011. When I first began reviewing books it seemed that I had opportunities to read quite a few--the Vivian Arend Wolf Tracks series and others. In recent months I haven't done much of that. It's probably crazy, but I really like shape shifter novels. I did read three Jennifer Estep novels recently for The Book Binge and enjoyed them immensely. And I want to finish the Breeds series by Lora Leigh this year. I have read about two-thirds of those and want to finish the rest. As my daughter commented: those books are like being on crack.
I have a number of books for review that are waiting for me -- actually a couple of shelves' worth so buying more books seems unnecessary. But I have to own up to being seduced by ebooks--and by some of the books coming out in 2011 by authors I really like Jenny Penn, Heather Rainier, Sophie Oak, Desiree Holt, and more.
I also plan to read some non-fiction books--as a helping professional I feel that I need that kind of mental stimulation as well. Just need to stay sharp in my chosen field.
So there " . . . so many books, and so little time . . ." With the way books are barreling off the presses and with the advent of ebooks, the good news is that we readers will NEVER run out of books to read. The bad news is that we will NEVER live long enough to enjoy them all.
Soooooo. . . we'll just keep on keep on and see where we end up on December 31. Keep to eReaders loaded and the bookmarks working. Until next time . . .

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Whose Opinion Really Counts? "Once Burned" by Desiree Holt

It has always been a very human problem, at least so I have observed, that each of us is so concerned about how others see us and how our reputation is preserved within the framework of our own personal context--our community--our family--our circles of influence. Certainly that need to be seen positively brings much weight to bear on how each of us acts, how our behavioral habits are formed, how we even raise our children and what each of us sees as "right and wrong."

But what happens when one's reputation goes right down the toilet and no matter how that may have happened or how others' opinion may be built on misinformation or outright lies, it still hurts and in some contexts, is virtually impossible to change.

This is the background of Desiree Holt's novel Once Burned. It is a story that begins in a small town--everyone knows everyone else--and a heroine, Cassie Fitzgerald, who is the youngest daughter and whose parents really don't "see" her because they are so enraptured by Cassie's older sister. Diane lives large, plays fast and loose with her own reputation, with the feelings of her parents and those within the community, and essentially does what she pleases. She is a part of a crowd of high schoolers who keep the local law enforcement officers on their toes. One of Diane's crowd is a guy with whom she has been having an on-again-off-again affair named Griffin Hunter. Yet in a strange turn of fate, Cassie encounters Griffin one summer evening, and he confesses that the only girl in town he has ever cared about, truly cared about, is her. Having had a crush on Griff Hunter for years, Cassie succumbs to his advances--she is now a junior in college--and for a brief two nights, they are lovers. They agree to continue their affair when she returns from visiting relatives in a few weeks. And then she receives the news that Griff has married her sister Diane.

Now it is six years later. Cassie has become a news reporter in Tampa, Florida, having never returned to her home town. Her sister has been murdered, her father had subsequently started drinking heavily and committed suicide, and now her mother has died. The authorities believed that Griff had murdered Diane, but he had an airtight alibi. Yet, in the general opinion of the towns people, Griff was the murder. Out of necessity she is once again at her parents' home, rushing to settle the estate, sell the house, and return to Tampa without seeing Griff. It was not to be. As the only landscaper in town, he was the only person who was available to restore the yard around the house so it could be shown and sold. When they finally meet, they realize that the old sparks are still there and Cassie realizes that no matter what anyone says, she can never believe that Griff murdered her sister. She cannot get anyone to tell her anything about her sister's death or, for that matter, her father's suicide. Her news reporter instincts begin to hum and she decides that she will stick around long enough to find her sister's murder(s).

The core of this tale is the love story, protracted though it may be, between Cassie and Griffin. The curious part about this is the pressure the community brings to bear in order to break them up. It's almost as if it becomes a community project to demean and destroy this man. It is heartwarming to see Cassie's inner strength as she stands up to old family friends, her family doctor, her parents' attorney, the local banker that has always handled her parents' investments, etc. And as she and Griff became more involved and she learned more and more about him, she began to understand the kind of hatred he had endured for six years and the strength of character he had displayed through that miserable time.

This is a novel about forgiveness and renewal. It is also a story that talks openly about the flip sides of that emotion we call love--how disappointment can almost turn love into a kind of hate. In Cassie's case, the love had always been there. It is also a story that reveals Cassie's maturation process--how she moves from caring about what others think of her to a point where her relationship with Griff is more important than what anyone else says. Sometimes that can be foolish, but given the hypocritical relationship the towns people had had with her during her growing up years--when everyone was enamored with Diane and really weren't even aware that Cassie was there--she was more than willing to stuff the community's concerns in favor of keeping Griff in her life.

This was another really enjoyable Holt offering that deals honestly with human emotion and relationships. It is well-written with edgy and totally realistic characters. The town of Stoneham could have been any Small Town, USA, and certainly reminded me of some I have known personally. It is a very adept look at the prejudices that are often formed and perpetrated among small-minded people whose boundaries are often no farther afield than the town limits. I found this story to be very compelling with a great deal of social commentary, intended or unintended, I can't say. In any event, this is a very, very good read and one that will remain on my "to be read again" list for some time to come. I give this novel the rating of 4.25 out of 5.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Finding The Way Back Home: Whisper Falls by Toni Blake

Tessa Sheridan came crawling back to Destiny, Ohio, after her big city interior design career crumbled. Now she struggles to make ends meet and worse, has to contend with the neighbor's Harley shattering the serenity of her rustic cabin by Whisper Falls. Worse still, the bad boy biker next door makes her feel breathless and weak, and shy, petite Tessa knows what a mistake it would be to get involved with someone so dangerous.

They say that Lucky Romo has a dark secret past and that he's trouble with a capital "T." Still, Tessa tingles when she sees how well he fills out a pair of tight jeans. And when Lucky invites her into his world, she knows the intense heat sparking between them could lead somewhere wild and wonderful and yes, dangerous.

As an inveterate people-watcher, I have often been fascinated with the way people appear to be so "together" while actually dealing with some pretty heavy-duty stuff. In airports or train stations it looks like folks are just hurrying to get somewhere when in reality all of them are dealing with stresses that can range all the way from having forgotten one's toothbrush to dealing with death, divorce, or loss of employment. One of the major problems we don't like to discuss very often is the onset of a chronic illness and the changes this may force in one's life. In Toni Blake's novel, Tessa is now having to deal with the life changes that have been forced upon her as a victim of Crohn's Disease, a debilitating intestinal disease that can greatly complicate what many of us consider a "normal" life and a prospering career. So it was with Tessa: lost days at work, having to complete projects when feeling weak and sick, dealing with the continuing presence of pity from one's co-workers, i.e. " . . . poor Tessa; I wonder when she'll be back on her feet." So "poor Tessa" has returned to Destiny, OH, believing she had a job. It was not to be, and now she is trying to put her life and her career back together, knowing that it will probably not ever be the same.

The last thing Tessa needs is a dangerous "bad boy" like Lucky Romo, a man caught in his own mess made up of a checkered past, the march of time that is moving him away from the wildness of early youth, new responsibilities from discovering he is a father, and wondering if he can re-connect with his family--or even, if he wants to. Yet the attraction between Tessa and Lucky begins when he sees her sun bathing on her deck, and being a healthy male, he finds a way to strike up an acquaintance. He then engages her services as an interior designer for several rooms in his house, and their connection grows. Yet Lucky is a man who needs to keep secrets--the ghosts of his biker past have teeth and AK47's, and after ten years he is still looking over his shoulder.

This is a beautifully written novel about two people who, in their own way, must find a new path in life. They are each on a journey of discovery yet they must shoulder the baggage of the past. For Lucky he is, in many ways, still on the run. He is a successful businessman, yet he is at a loss how to be a father to the young son he didn't know he had. Tessa is worried that he life can never again be really productive or bear any semblance of normality. While their affair brings connection and comfort into their lives, it doesn't solve some of the core issues for either one of them. This story is dealing with issues that are not too far removed from circumstances and situations that are probably far more common than most of us could imagine. Yet the choices that are made in early adulthood can follow us relentlessly. So it was with Lucky, and his leaving Destiny 15 years earlier without a word to his family--a silence that was never broken over those long years--can be rooted in deeper wounds.

Toni Blake has crafted a story that brings the reader into these two lives with expertise. One is almost unaware of the extent of the pain and confusion until the reader is sitting right on top of it. It is not a simple story--many layers that add to the complexity and which demand that the reader make a conscious decision to keep on, whether to turn the next page, read the next chapter, all in the hope of finding the "happily ever after." There was one point when I wasn't sure that these two characters were going to be able to find their way out of the maze. But there is something to be said for faith, hope, and the healing power of true friendship and acceptance. Families do keep on surprising their members, and there is often a new direction that becomes apparent when the reader least expects it. So it is in this novel. Redemption, forgiveness, restoration, renewal, discovering inner resources one either ignored are which were undiscovered--all these make themselves known in varied ways and in varying degrees in this story.

Ms Blake is well-known as a literary craftsman and she has not disappointed here. She is a very good storyteller. Romance fiction fans will find this to be a compelling story that holds one's interest from beginning to end. I really enjoyed reading it, and think serious lovers of romance fiction will find it a worthy investment of time and effort. I give this novel a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

This novel was released for publication in December, 2010 by Harper Collins Publishers under their Avon Books imprint.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The 12th Day of Christmas--Whew!! It's Finally All Over . . . But Wait . . . 'Twas The Night by Sandra Hill, Kate Holmes, & Trish Jensen

Three irresistible guys are trying to get home for Christmas across the snowbound northeast roads. The last chartered bus out of Philadelphia is full of rambunctious senior citizens who call themselves the Santa Brigade. Their fearless driver, a woman, is a former Marine and NASCAR driver.

Having no choice, our heroes hop a ride with the Brigade and immediately (Christmas magic?) they collide with three fellow hitchhikers who are women from their past. These gorgeous gals have neither forgotten or forgiven old heartaches, and so it's going to be a very long night on the bus . . .

This is not really an anthology in any sense of the word. It is a novel that came about through the combined efforts of three very good writers and the resulting work is not only beautifully written but is one of the best holiday novels I have ever read! Here we meet Samuel Merrick, a Navy commander and member of the famous Blue Angels; we are introduced to Kevin Wilder, a well-known private investigator, former law enforcement officer, and soon-to-be attorney; and we become acquainted with Stanly Kijewski, former NFL quarterback. All three are former residents of Snowdon, Maine; all three were raised in its orphanage for boys, and all three owe their successful adult lives to one man who is being married on Christmas Day and who has insisted they all be present at his wedding. Only one problem . . . no planes, no buses, no trains, no cars for hire . . . zip, none, nada. So over their loud and repeated protestations, these three old friends--and they have always been best friends--reunite on a bus full of some of the funniest, zaniest, strangest, senior citizens, on the only bus making its way north. But the fun has only begun. Traveling along with these three are three other people bound for Snowdon and the wedding--and these three women along with the curious group of senior "santas" manage to turn Sam, Kevin, and Stan upside down and inside out.

The three friends are not really prepared for the whirl of giving and caring the Santa Brigade is all about. All along the road to Snowdon, this group of talented and zaney seniors put on shows, feed snacks, and bring gifts to homeless families, many of whom are stuck at difficult places in their lives or have been abandoned by their loved ones. In their slow progress north, each of these men must face up to their past, deal with the old feelings they still harbored about the community and in some cases, about the very people who are on the bus. Thinking they have nothing to contibute to the "show" they discover that just being themselves and sharing themselves brings joy to the families and children in the shelters. Add in the attraction that springs up between these six "hitchhikers" and you have a wonderful holiday story.

It is to be expected that these "hitchhikers" would pair off and that there would develop some form of relationship. However, the funniest part of this story are the sexy and witty seniors--sharing their life philosophies, giving advice on love and sex, and themselves pairing up in some fascinating twosomes. It was almost a continual chuckle for me. The dialogue was sparkling and the characters were so well-developed that even in this tightly packed grouping it was possible to recognize each one when they entered a scene.

So even though the holiday season is now just about officially over, you need to read this humorous, heart-warming novel. It is truly one of the best I have encountered and I highly recommend it as a great way to complete the holiday season. I give this novel a rating of 5 out of 5.

This book was released by Bell Book Publishers in November, 2010.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The 11th Day of Christmas: Two Christmas Novellas

There are always popular themes that become evident from year to year--aside, of course, the traditional emphases of the holiday season. Yet there are a plethora of holiday stories, many of which are short stories and novellas which embrace many aspects of romance fiction. Just a couple of these were some fun stories that I came across this year.

Snowbound Holiday is a delightful novella that features a young woman now returning to her childhood home in the shadow of the Laramie Mountains. Her grandfather had died, the grandparent who had thrown her and her mother out as "trash" and who was finally driven from the community by poverty and gossip. Now she has returned to attend the funeral and the reading of the will, not expecting anything but being summoned by her grandfather's attorney. She is immediately greeted by one of her closest childhood friends who meets her at the airport. Together with his brother and their closest friend, they declare that she is their "mate." She has never found anything or anyone to fill up that empty space at the center of her being, an empty space that has always been there and one that kept on telling her that she wasn't loved. Yet these three men, all of them big, burley, gorgeous, are trying to keep her in Wyoming long enough to convince her that she belongs with them. One great big catch: all three are snow leopard shifters.

This is a really nice holiday story--embracing the concepts of restoration and redemption, the renewal of one's humanity, the healing power of love. I give this novella a rating of 3.25 out of 5.

Holiday Fantasy is a very cute novella about an African American woman who is belatedly invited to the Christmas party of a friend. It puzzles Alesha that Kristy is so late in inviting her as she thought they were close friends. Nevertheless, she shows up with her signature holiday cookies only to literally crash into a wall of hard muscle--belonging to a longtime friend of her brothers, a man who has known her since she was a little girl and one who figured prominently in Alesha's teen fantasies. But she was in for another shock: in addition to her brothers' friend Josh, their friend Mike was there also and was, in fact, Josh's business partner and housemate. She also slowly came to realize that this was an informational meeting regarding the BDSM life.
Alesha is a woman who had learned to live with the empty spaces, wondering why her relationship always seemed to go south over time. This story highlights that for some that Dom/sub relationship is very freeing--giving up control can mean that someone you trust implicitly has now taken responsibility for your protection, wellbeing, and protection. Some people really appear to need that. In the context of the holiday season, when the hurts in people's lives so often form a troubling contrast to all the celebration, this story can have meaning for many who have wondered how to fill in those emotional and psychological holes. I give this story a rating of 3 out of 5.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The 9th Day of Christmas: A Wallflower Christmas by Lisa Kleypas

The Magic of Christmas begins under the Mistletoe!

Author Lisa Kleypas invites you to spend the holidays with the Walolflowers--four young London ladies who finally found the men of their dreams . . . and will join together once more to help the world's most notorious rogue meet his match.

Rafe Bowman (Lillian & Daisy Bowman's older brother) has just arrived from America for his arranged meeting with Natalie, the very proper and beautiful daughter of Lady and Lord Blandford. His chiseled g ood looks and imposing physique are sure to impress her lady-in-waiting, and if it weren't for his shocking American ways and wild reputation, her hand would already be guaranteed. Before the courtship can begin, Rafe realizes he must learn the rules of London society. But when four former Wallflowers try their hand at matchmaking, no one knows what will happen.

Winning a bride turns out to be more complicated than Rafe had anticipated, especially for a man accustomed to getting anything he wants. However, Christmas works in the most unexpected ways, changing a cynic to a romantic . . . and inspiring passion in the most timid of hearts.

Lillian & Daisy Bowman's brother is now in England, seeking to consummate an engagement with the daughter of a willing aristocrat, a bride chosen for him by his overbearing and controlling father. In fact, if he doesn't see fit to follow through with Lady Natalie, he will forfeit his inheritance and his place in his father's commercial empire. Lillian & Daisy work hard to give their brother some English polish and to help him to respond in social situations according to English expectations and not the American norm. Yet he is not looking for a love match like his sisters' marriages. He finds Natalie to be pleasant and is willing to move forward, expecting that they will "rub along" passably well. That is, until he encounters the abrasive and outspoken Hannah, Natalie's cousin and companion, a woman who sees herself as "less than" and plain, a poor relation that is fortunate to have been elevated to her position in Natalie's household. Instead of a woman who is willing to agree with anything he might say, Hannah is a woman of intelligence and who is unafraid and not intimidated by a wealthy rogue. Her censure of his lifestyle certainly caught his attention to a far greater degree than he expected.

This is a delightful holiday story that seems to bring a lovely conclusion to the Wallflower series. Set in a holiday "house party" that was common in Victorian England, all the Wallflowers were present as they were Lillian's best friends and having a sensitivity to other women who were treated as social wallflowers, they were able to tutor not only their brother in his social skills but they took Hannah under their wing, making her shine in her true brilliance.

The fun of the Christmas season during that historical period is very evident in the flow and context of the story. The fun of trimming a Christmas tree when they were not a common tradition at that time was historically correct, and the general activity that goes on during those kinds of social gatherings were a delightful context for this lovely story. It was engaging for me, as I loved this series in the first place, to read the story of another Bowman, one who himself was out of step with the English social scene, and a young man who needed to find his own life priorities one way or another.

The holidays have always represented a time of hope, of new discoveries, and certainly a sense of kindness and open-hearted giving of one's worldly goods as well as one's respect and regard. This story certainly embraces those concepts and highlights that in a society that was terribly self-serving and self-centered, kindness, gentleness, respect, and personal regard were still alive and well. I give this story a rating of 4 out of 5.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Out With the Old, In With the New . . . Important Stuff and Silly Stuff, too

Well, it's here . . . the New Year of 2011. And like every year that has come before, it is an opportunity to review, to reflect, to celebrate or mourn, memorable events and lots of silly stuff--the usual, it would seem.

Re: books
I read, almost 600 books--I think I missed it by 10 or 12. No kidding, just love to read and actually there were some books I have read during the holidays that I failed to get into the Goodreads count. So I am sure I went over the 600 mark, now that I think about it.

Stuff to celebrate:
Our 51st wedding anniversary and the 25th year at my job. So it would appear I really can stick to the plan. I also have another granddaughter that has become a teenager (UGH) and a grandson that got his MBA. A near miss: we were going on our first Mexico cruise until the Carnival ship burned and they cancelled our trip. We've planned a substitute trip that doesn't involve sailing. My hubby's successful heart surgery in the Spring--I've gotten used to him and can't imagine my life without him. So glad that, for now, he is still with us. And last, but not least, the University of Iowa football team won the Incite Bowl. Go Hawkeyes!!! (My hubby was born and raised in Iowa so I always root for them.)

Stuff to mourn:
We have lost some interesting entertainment, literary, scientific, and sports figures this year. I always wonder if the young people will replace those people? There is no doubt that the priorities have changed in so many ways, our culture has become focused on different issues, and as a result the achievements of the succeeding generations will change. We have some very special people "in the wings" and my hope and prayer is that those talented young people will be willing to "step up to the plate" or to fill in the gaps left by the loss of some really special people.

Hopes for this year:
Lose 60 pounds, all my family will remain well and with us, read some really special books, see my blog following grow, do a good job as a DIK (Desert Island Keepers) blogger, see my three youngest granddaughters do well in their school experience this year, pay off at least two bills, stay healthy, and manage a daily random act of kindness. I really don't believe in "resolutions" because I think they are so easy to set aside. But I do have these hopes for this year and have set them as my goals.

Special Thanks
to all of you who stopped by and shared your thoughts and comments here this past year. I was my maiden year as a blogger and you made it a special experience.

To you all . . . Have a happy and prosperous 2011!

Perhaps you could share at least one or two of your personal goals for this coming year.